Thanks to our Ellie, 'normal' has been redefined
21:30 GMT, 16 September 2012
With her fears about singeing her hair when she extinguished the Paralympic flame still fresh, Ellie Simmonds walked into a secondary school in Chiswick, west London, on Friday morning to address an assembly of 14 and 15-year-olds.
They whooped, cheered and clapped as the quadruple Paralympic gold medallist, who won two golds, a silver and bronze in London, took a seat on the stage and answered questions about being a swimmer; being an athlete. One word dominated her responses: ‘normal’.
‘I’m a teenager like you,’ said the 17-year-old. ‘I go to school. I do normal stuff, too: go to the cinema and go shopping with my friends. But whereas you can stay up until 11pm I can probably only last until nine because I’m up so early the next day for training. I’m just normal, too.’
Star: Ellie Simmonds addressed school children after her Paralympic success
More from Laura Williamson…
Laura Williamson: It was just great, and thank you for putting sport first
Laura Williamson: I love the show but you've got one week to show this is a sport
Laura Williamson: Here's a challenge… forget the disability, focus on the sport
Laura Williamson: It's time to show you really care about women's football
Laura Williamson: Goodbye and good riddance to Plucky Britannia
Laura Williamson: Success of Britain's wonder women have made it the girlie Games
Laura Williamson: We're in tune but we need to get on song too
Laura Williamson: Oh boy, it's tough for Faye to give up at top of her game
VIEW FULL ARCHIVE
The two gold medals hanging around Simmonds’ neck singled her out as someone quite extraordinary. ‘Normal’ in Ellie-speak doesn’t mean average, that’s for sure. But the normality to which she was referring was not her sport, the 18 hours a week she has spent in a pool doing 24 100-metre repetitions to hone that astonishing freestyle speed. It was her disability, the achondroplasia she was born with which means she is only 4ft 1in tall.
After the Paralympic Games in London, you feel this is no longer what defines Simmonds. ‘I think it has changed things,’ she said. ‘We’re all normal people, Olympians and Paralympians, but we just do sport as well and we’re all very talented. I think this is the only Paralympics that has inspired kids to see that, which is why it’s so important to carry on the legacy.’
Simmonds seems to have been around so long it was easy to forget she was addressing a room of her peers as she launched Sainsbury’s Active Kids for All Scheme, which aims to ensure the inclusion of disabled children in sport in mainstream schools.
Kids like Ellie, whose parents no longer have to ferry her between home in Aldridge, in the west Midlands, and Swansea, where she goes to school and lives from Monday to Saturday afternoon. ‘Now I’ve passed my driving test I can do it myself,’ she said. Simmonds listens to Eminem’s Lose Yourself before she competes and has been saving for an iPad as a post-Games treat.
Heroes welcome: Simmonds took part in the athletes' parade last week
She hopes there will be a ‘trip to New York or Australia’ in store, too.
She will carry on swimming at least until Rio de Janeiro in 2016 but after that ‘I enjoy baking so maybe I could work in a patisserie,’ she said. ‘I love the opportunities that I’ve had because I’m a swimmer and I’ve achieved, but I don’t see myself as a celebrity, definitely not.
‘It’s going to be weird going back to normality, back to school, though.
‘I’m doing two A Levels — History and World Development. It’s good to not just be a swimmer but to be a normal person, too.’
There’s that word again. You get the feeling its meaning has changed forever.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
Andy Murray’s US Open win on Tuesday morning UK time provided the most stunning end to an unforgettable British summer of sport. He is now the player the big three must fear. But someone might want to tell Murray the Fred Perry questions won’t go away just yet: a certain grass-court tournament next June might reignite the ‘last Briton since….’ tedium. Sorry, Andy, enjoy a well-earned break from it while you can.
Main man: Andy Murray ended Britain's wait for a male Grand Slam winner
…AND THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN DOING THIS WEEK
I will never forget the sight of a man wearing a Liverpool scarf walking down my street on Wednesday afternoon and seeing strangers stopping to shake his hand. ‘The Truth’ was crucial for the friends and families of the 96 innocent victims of Hillsborough but it was also so, so important for the city of Liverpool — and anyone with Scouse blood in their veins.
Listening to Chris Holmes, director of Paralympic integration at LOCOG and nine-time Paralympic swimming champion, praising the unprecedented coverage the Games received. ‘We had every front page on the first and second day and every front page — bar one — on the third day. And that was left to Cheryl Cole. I’m not sure what event she was competing in, mind you.’
Wondering if there can be anything more vacuous than being told to shake someone’s hand. Let’s just scrap the whole charade and get on with the game. A sporting handshake is not one of introduction, anyway — it should be about providing closure at the end of a contest.
Snub: Anton Ferdinand refused to shake John Terry's hand at QPR
THEY SAID WHAT
Maria Miller, the new Culture Secretary, sent a letter to Lord Patten, the chairman of the BBC, and other broadcasters bemoaning the ‘woeful under-representation’ of women’s sport on television. This is something that needs to be addressed as part of the London 2012 legacy, but I fear Mrs Miller, who also happens to be the Equalities Minister, may not be the most avid sports watcher in the House of Commons.
She obviously didn’t watch any of the Women’s British Open on BBC Two last week or the Athletes’ Parade on Monday or any of the action from the Great North Run and CityGames.
In fact, her letter came after a week in which sportswomen were on BBC screens for nearly 16 hours — and it would have been even more had the weather played ball at Hoylake.